Lockdown threat remains ahead of Winton event

The 2019 Winton Supercars event

The threat of a Melbourne lockdown remains, days out from Supercars’ Winton SuperSprint in regional Victoria.

Victorian authorities have advised that 10 more cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in the community since yesterday’s announcement of new restrictions in Greater Melbourne, which took effect last night.

No further restrictions have been decided on at this point in time, although the state’s Acting Premier, James Merlino, has warned that they are a distinct possibility.

What that means for the Repco Supercars Championship is still unclear, although it should be noted that AFL matches are currently set to proceed with crowds, albeit with additional COVID-related measures.

The Winton SuperSprint is set to take place from May 28-30, before the tentative June 4 end date advised yesterday for the current restrictions, although Friday’s track activity comprises only the Dunlop Super2 Series and support categories.

UPDATE: Winton SuperSprint currently allowed to “proceed as normal”

There are presently a total of 23 active cases of COVID-19 in Victoria, following 26,180 tests and a record 15,858 vaccinations yesterday.

“I want to be upfront with everyone this morning,” said Acting Premier Merlino.

“I cannot rule out taking some further action but we will update people as soon as we know.

“It’s fair to say that the next 24 hours are going to be particularly critical.

“The message this morning is that it’s good that everyone is linked, at this stage, but we are concerned about the number and also about the kind of exposure sites, and the next 24 hours are going to be critical if we are going to have to make any further changes beyond the changes that we announced yesterday.”

The AFL had yesterday suspended ticket sales for this weekend’s matches in Melbourne, but it has since been advised that crowds are allowed again at this stage.

“That’s correct in terms of where we are right now, so AFL football going ahead with crowds, subject to masks and other changes,” confirmed Acting Premier Merlino.

“But there’s been great engagement between the league, between our stadia, and our public health team.

“But this is just like the settings that we announce yesterday that we put in place last night.

“This is subject to how we go over the next 24 hours. We’ve got a critical period in front of us but right now, engagement between the AFL and public health, games with crowds, subject to some restrictions.”

For Winton, there are a number of issues.

The nature of the facility is such that much of the spectator area is general admission and unseated, in contrast to the venues used by competitions such as the AFL.

Six teams representing 12 Supercars Championship entries are based in Melbourne, namely Walkinshaw Andretti United, Blanchard Racing Team, Tickford Racing, Kelly Grove Racing, Erebus Motorsport, Team 18.

Additionally, Brad Jones Racing’s Nick Percat and Todd Hazelwood live in the Victorian capital.

Should the event still be allowed to go ahead this weekend, there remains also the question of whether Greater Melbourne residents might not be prohibited from attending, and then what effect that has on the viability of the event given it is promoted by the Benalla Auto Club rather than Supercars itself.

In terms of Super2, only two teams are based in Melbourne, namely MW Motorsport and Eggleston Motorsport, and the latter’s Matt McLean is the only such driver.

Image Racing is based in Victoria, but outside the city, with drivers Jordan Boys and Jaylyn Robotham residing in New South Wales and regional Victoria respectively.

At the heart of the latest COVID-19 scare is the Whittlesea cluster.

It is that cluster which has grown from five cases, 24 hours ago, to 15, all of which are linked.

Of the additional 10, four were announced yesterday afternoon, five confirmed overnight, and another this morning which will officially be included in tomorrow’s numbers.

The AFL has been hit by the cluster after it was discovered that a COVID positive was among the 23,000 people in attendance at last Sunday’s Collingwood v Port Adelaide match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Those who were seated in a particular zone of the Great Southern Stand have been directed to get tested and isolate until such time that they return a negative result, having been deemed close contacts.

Furthermore, Melbourne-based teams which are playing interstate in coming days are leaving/have left early.

New restrictions took effect in Greater Melbourne last night, although they were announced yesterday morning, even before the news that the Whittlesea cluster had grown to nine cases.

Those restrictions include a cap on private gatherings in the home of five people, and on public gatherings of 30 people, while face masks must be worn indoors unless an exemption applies.

No direction was given yesterday morning regarding sporting and other major events, with Acting Premier Merlino stating that authorities would provide further advice at a later time.

While Winton Motor Raceway is located outside of the area defined as Greater Melbourne, the aforementioned restrictions apply even to those who travel from Greater Melbourne into regional Victoria.

The Whittlesea cluster originates from a Wollert man who had travelled from India and was released from hotel quarantine in Adelaide on May 4, before returning to his residence in Melbourne’s north.

Genomic sequencing has linked the Whittlesea cluster to the Wollert man, although there is a missing link in the chain of transmission.

Victoria’s Health Department admitted last week that it had incorrectly listed Woolworths Epping as an exposure site, with the Wollert man having in fact visited Woolworths Epping North.

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